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Water-guzzling lawns have taken significant flack in California’s four-year drought, and officials delivered another hit Friday by sharply limiting how much water newly constructed landscapes can use.
The limits came from the state’s Building Standard’s Commission in response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order that urban water users cut back 25 percent during California’s four-year drought.
Builders and developers can meet the new rules by planting shrubs and bushes instead of grass, or by installing slow-trickling valves instead of traditional sprinklers.
“You can still see grass, you are just going to see a lot less of it,” said Bob Raymer of the California Building Industry Association, which supported the changes.
The rules don’t impact existing landscapes, or those that use recycled or reclaimed water. The new standards will take effect Monday for proposed office buildings, schools and hospitals, and on June 15 for housing developments.
Orange County has 89,000 new houses, apartments and condos in the development pipeline, according to MarketPointe Realty Advisors of San Diego. How those tens of thousands of properties will be impacted is not yet clear.
The rules don’t spell out how lawns should be watered or the exact types of grass and shrubs that can be planted, said Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the state’s Department of General Services. Rather, developers must figure out how to meet certain efficiency limits.
Local government officials will enforce the design rules, though Orange County already has a standard for larger landscaping areas, said Dan Ferons, the general manager at Santa Margarita Water District in south Orange County.
“It may be tightening down,” Ferons said.
The new rules are based on a performance metric: landscapes must fall below a certain per-square-foot water use level. That metric is different than Brown’s original proposal, which was to restrict the kind of irrigation technology builders can install on new construction.
Regardless, the rules will compel people to seek out more efficient irrigation technology, said Tracy Quinn, a policy analyst for the water program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
“It also incentivizes you to use a lot more efficient plants, so you’re more likely to plant drought-tolerant plants,” she said.
The rules only affect landscapes larger than 2,500 square feet, Quinn said. A typical lot on a new Orange County home is at least that size, including the house. But not all of a lot is landscaped.
“A lot of the new landscaping, it’s going to fall below that square footage. So a lot of new homes are not going to fall under that regulation,” Quinn said.
The 2,500 square foot threshold is applied inconsistently, Quinn added. Some parts of the state count entire 100-house developments as one landscape, while others count each house individually. “We really need clarification on that,” Quinn said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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